The Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s three straight losses put a spotlight on its defense, none brighter than the one on its front court.
In its three losses, Wisconsin gave up 52, 26 and 48 points in the paint, respectively, leading to questions of the Badgers’ frontcourt and more specifically the minutes of emerging freshman forward Nigel Hayes.
Through 20 games, Hayes is averaging more than 16 minutes, but Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan addressed his desire to give the freshman more time on the floor, saying Hayes has responded well to coaching through the first half of his first season with the program.
“He’s one of those guys, I’m sure, 20 years from now, when I look back on coaching different people, he’ll be one that will pop out for a lot of the right reasons,” Ryan said in his weekly press conference Monday. “He’s just one of those kind of guys you want in there with you.”
Hayes did play a season high 27 minutes in Minneapolis last Wednesday against Minnesota when foul trouble forced Frank Kaminsky to the bench in the first half after playing just three minutes.
Kaminsky found himself in with two quick fouls again against Purdue, but Ryan decided to play it differently than sitting him for the entire half, checking him in and out throughout the first half.
“He didn’t respond real well by sitting,” Ryan said. “It’s kind of like if Frank’s not on the floor, he can’t really help.”
Kaminsky’s foul trouble did open the door for little-used junior center Evan Anderson, who played seven minutes in the Badgers’ first win in more than two weeks. Ryan was quick to sing the praises of Anderson’s relief efforts.
“But I’ll tell you what, Evan sure did some nice things for us,” Ryan said. “Big E kept us in there in the first half and blocked out Hammons … Hammons could do nothing but reach over the top of him, and he got the foul that put Hammons to the bench. So Evan went in there and neutralized their inside source, and that really helped.
“But he’s been working so hard. He’s just glad he hasn’t lost confidence.”
Although Ryan coached Wisconsin to its first win in more than two weeks, he said he wasn’t feeling the best during their trip to Purdue, but “only asked for the trash can once.”
His illness did prevent him from meeting with the media after the win — assistant coach Greg Gard took over the interviewing duties — and said the only thing he wanted to do after the game was to sleep on the coach’s couch, but when that was no where to be found the floor became his next best option.
“So when [coach Gard] came back from the press conference … I was lying on the floor,” Ryan said. “The carpeting was okay.”
Wisconsin will look to build off its win over Purdue Wednesday night at the Kohl Center when it will take on a Northwestern team that it beat 76-49 in Evanston, Ill., Jan. 2.
Lately, though, the Wildcats have begun to rally around first year head coach Chris Collins winning three of its last five games.
“They’re much improved. They’re playing well,” Ryan said. “And people will tell you in the league they’re playing as well as anybody. We know what we have coming in here.”